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Politics chat: Voting rights bills stalled; midterm considerations; Sen. Reid dies


The anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol dominated headlines last week. There were somber remembrances of the day a mob loyal to former President Donald Trump attempted an insurrection. But even as a House committee continues to investigate just what happened on that day, lawmakers are also dealing with another key issue, voting rights legislation. We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Ayesha. Good morning.

RASCOE: OK, so there are two voting bills under consideration right now - the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. And between the two of them, they have a lot of provisions outlining when and how votes can be cast and even protecting against things like meritless audits. Where do these two bills stand currently?

DETROW: Well, the same place that they've been for the past year, which is stalled in the Senate. These measures have passed the House. They're subject to the filibuster rule, and Republicans have blocked passage. Biden says this is a top priority, an existential problem for the country and for the Democratic Party. You heard that in the big speech he gave on January 6. He's going to give a major speech about the issue this week, too, in Georgia, which is, you know, a symbolic location both past and present on a lot of fronts when it comes to voting rights.

But so far, here's the challenge for Biden. He has yet to show what he can do about this, other than give symbolic speeches and try to make this a motivating issue for voters. So I think the key thing to listen for this week is whether Biden unveils any new strategy, any change to his approach, and specifically whether he says he will start to pressure the Senate to try and change the rules and maybe create an exemption for a filibuster for something tied to voting, kind of like we've seen the Senate do for nominations and last month, the debt ceiling.

RASCOE: Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell - on Wednesday, he floated some tying type of Electoral College reform. But it sounds like it landed with a bit of a thud, right?

DETROW: Certainly for Democrats. McConnell said updating the Electoral Count Act is something that is, quote, "worth discussing." That was in a quick interview with Politico. You know, there is bipartisan worry about this law. It goes back to 1877 when Congress was responding to a controversial close election. It's confusing, outdated. There are a lot of loopholes that could be exploited. And it deals with how Congress counts electoral votes, which, to put it very mildly, was an issue of concern last year. But, you know, Democrats do not see McConnell and Republicans acting in good faith when it comes to elections. Here's what Vice President Harris told PBS NewsHour.


VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Because it's not a solution to the problem at hand, which is that right now in the United States of America, we need federal laws that guarantee the freedom and right of every American to have access to the ballot, to be able to vote. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Freedom to Vote Act address that issue.

DETROW: And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put it more sharply on the Senate floor, saying scorekeeping matters little if the game is rigged, as in the barriers to voting are more important to address when it comes to him and Harris and in other Democrats' view.

RASCOE: Democratic Senator Harry Reid - he had a long career as a Senate minority and majority leader. There was a memorial held for him yesterday in Las Vegas. How was Senator Reid remembered?

DETROW: It was really a who's who of Democrats gathered. You had former President Obama, President Biden and others. There was a lot of talk about all of these substantial bills Reid got passed and the gruff demeanor he had while getting things done. And, you know, it's notable at this moment when Biden's key agenda is stalled. Of course, Reid had a lot more votes to work with in many times. And I think this was also a timely gathering, given the choices Democrats face on the filibuster, to be remembering someone who both worked within the rules and customs of the Senate but also pushed them, often on partisan lines, to get things done. Remember, Reid is the person who started this process of winding back the filibuster.

RASCOE: OK, so really quickly before we go, it's the start of a new year, an election year. What should we be looking out for, the dynamics that might be showing up in the polls later on this year?

DETROW: Yeah, the key window right now is who's deciding to run again or not. You have a lot of Democrats in the House saying, you know what? I'm - my career is good. I'm good on retiring right now. That seems to be a sign that they think they might not be in the majority. On the flip side, a lot of Republicans who were on the fence are running again - one key person, South Dakota Senator John Thune, who was really wavering but is going to run again. That's important because he's someone Trump has criticized and targeted. That race could be a test of whether Trump has clout with Republicans in 2022.

RASCOE: And that's NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you so much, Scott.

DETROW: Always good to talk to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.